Urmia is situated at an altitude of 1,330 m above sea level, and is located along the Shahar Chay river (City River) on the Urmia Plain. Lake Urmia, one of the world's largest salt lakes, lies to the east of the city and the mountainous Turkish border area lies to the west.
Urmia is the 10th most populated city in Iran. The city's inhabitants are predominantly Iranian Azerbaijanis who speak Azeri Turkish as well as Iran's official language, Persian or Farsi.
There are also minorities of Kurds, Assyrians, and Armenians. The city is the trading center for a fertile agricultural region where fruits (especially apples and grapes) and tobacco are grown.
An important town by the 9th century, Urmia was seized by the Seljuk Turks (1084), and later occupied a number of times by the Ottoman Turks. For centuries the city has had a diverse population which has at times included Muslims (Shias and Sunnis), Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Nestorians, and Orthodox), Jews and Sufis.
Around 1900, Christians made up more than 40% of the city's population, however, most of the Christians fled as a result of the Persian Campaign during World War I and the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides.